ABU DHABI // When he was in his mid-20s, Mohammed Al Mazrooei was appointed to the Federal National Council.
Other than mentioning the council’s work sporadically in his weekly columns for Al Ittihad, the Arabic-language sister paper of The National, the young journalist had little association with the council. So he was surprised when Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed, Ruler of Dubai at the time, appointed him to the FNC.
Although he was one of the youngest on the 40-member council, his job proved to be an advantage.
“The nature of journalism is that it sheds a light on local issues,” he said. “Working in media leads to familiarity with political issues. This helped me with getting to know issues in the country.”
Mr Al Mazrooei began his political career in 1984. For the next seven years he remained a member, and was reappointed twice, eventually becoming Secretary General.
At that time, the General Secretariat’s work was limited.
“There was no internet at that time, so every member was on his own in terms of going out and doing the work, whether collecting information or arranging meetings with ministries in preparation for the council’s work,” he said.
Mr Al Mazrooei left the council in 1991 to attend to his own business and was asked to return as Secretary General in 1996. His predecessor had fallen ill, and had taken early retirement.
After he took up the post, changes quickly followed.
“The country has witnessed a lot of changes, as a result it was reflected in the FNC,” he said modestly. Those around him in the council, however, say Mr Al Mazrooei was the reason for the amplified work of the council’s General Secretariat in research and media coverage, and introducing technology for the first time to the council. He opened a council library, now home to 12,000 titles, and brought in the first women to the General Secretariat. They now make up 60 per cent of staff.
The first step was to document everything that took place in the council chambers. Speeches made by presidents and others government officials have also all been stored in the council’s archives, dating back to the day of the first session in 1972.
“I think the FNC, more than any other council, has worked to protect their documents and establish an archive,” he said.
Regional and international parliaments have applauded the council’s research centre and have occasionally asked for briefings to learn from their work.
“A month ago in a meeting with the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s Secretary General, he said that our work was a benchmark for the region,” said Mr Al Mazrooei, who holds a PhD in political science.
As a result of his work, the General Secretariat now has 32 Emirati researchers, more than any other entity in the country.
“We believe we are the best entity in terms of research,” he said.
Mr Al Mazrooei’s deep belief in the importance of research dates back to his days as a member in the council, where he distinctly recalls changing the Ministry of Higher Education’s name to the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.
“I have a strong belief that the role of the secretary general is not just an admin role, but in research as well,” he said. “No nation can develop without research. Without research, you cannot make decisions, especially at a council.”
The researchers, most of whom were hired fresh out of university, go through intense training and climb a career ladder based on their research, all of which follow American standards.
“When the council has a law, for example the Child Rights law, legal and social researchers work on it,” he said. “We look at the law as if it is a phenomenon. The legal researchers look into the law, and the social researchers don’t. Instead, they look for all child-related cases. At the end, the two teams join to make sure the law addresses all the cases found. In the end, we advise council committees working on the law. We are only advisers, they can take the amendments proposed or not.”
Even with the regional recognition of their work, Mr Al Mazrooei said more needs to be done.
“Today we passed a crucial stage, but we have many more to pass,” he said.
As he continues to develop the work of the council’s backbench, the father and author has made he time to write a book examining the reasons for the low turnout at 2011 FNC elections. The book will be published this year.